Sunday, July 1, 2007

Zen by Shiseido : Perfume Review

Sometimes it is more difficult to write about perfumes I’ve lived with and loved for a long time, than about those I’ve just discovered. I’ve been longing to write about Zen for about as long as I’ve been writing Fragrance Bouquet, but something inside me has been making me hold back, always deciding to postpone a review for a later date. Perhaps it is fear of not being able to express my love for it; maybe it’s fear of being unable to describe it. Or perhaps it is the peculiar feeling I have of being unable to touch it, because I have never been able to truly own Zen anyway. It sits there on my dresser, wallowing in my love and admiration, not waiting to be picked – content in only rarely demanding to. And I, I have to wait till it calls me. The rest of my fragrances are mine, loved possessions I feel I can pick up almost thoughtlessly at any given time, because they are both mine and part of myself. With Zen, I have to be summoned.

But now, I feel cannot postpone the review any longer. I guess I have not been following fragrance news very closely, because it was only during my recent trip to Paris that I found that Zen has been discontinued. “Discontinued?” I asked at Shiseido, crestfallen. “Yes, it is gone, a new one is coming in September!” the answer came. Sure enough, when I came back home I confirmed it is nowhere to be found. A cursory look through the international WebPages of Shiseido just confused me, with some listing it as part of the fragrance line while others do not. For now, all I can do to comfort myself is write a little tribute to this difficult love of mine, this love that refuses to be tamed, shunning my affections with haughtiness. That, and wait for the tidings September will bring, of course.

In 1964, Shiseido released the original Zen, Zen Classic. In 2000, almost four decades later, they decided to completely reformulate it. It was meant to be a fragrance for the new millennium. In a time when the stressors of society seemed to be at an ultimate height and with technology making unprecedented leaps into a future that at the time seemed rather frantic, Zen came with a very ambitious vision: to center the wearer, to make them look deep in their hearts. To find inner strength and beauty, enabling them thus to be at peace with the world around them. To vivify the heart, prompting it to reach to others with kindness and purity. With never before used notes such as Space Rose, special ingredients such as Kyara wood and Modified Valerian Oil (both meant to decrease stress and induce feelings of calm and focus) as well as a flacon modeled after two hands gently clasped together in white to encompass all colors, it is obvious that a lot of thought and care went into every stage of creating this perfume. What happened in seven years? Why take away something that clearly required so much effort to create? Excuse me while I lament the loss of a favorite...

And yes, despite its difficult character, Zen has been a favorite of mine. Lacking the richness and complexity of a masterpiece, yes, but still a favorite. Deconstructing it is not an option: Zen is an amalgam of sights, sounds and smells. The heavy rustle of a kimono, austere, reserved. Then the playful, happy song of the melting snow forming a quick stream over rounded stones come springtime. Bamboo whispering in the breeze, while sappy greens are being cut with a machete, the watery scent of their fresh juices mingling with that of its metallic edge. Spiciness with a complete lack of warmth - a spirit burning incense. Solitude. There are no tools of seduction here.

Unlike anything I’d ever smelled before, Zen smells to me today as unique as it did the first time I ever sprayed it on my skin. Out of this world. In one word, futuristic: as shocking and beautiful as a Hussein Chalayan dress. Mossy, spicy and woody at the same time, Zen has all the right ingredients to make me feel as though I am in a Japanese garden. Yet, I do not feel self-contemplating when I wear it. Instead, Zen makes me assume all the qualities it has itself: Aloofness, detachment and quiet forcefulness.

Image courtesy of


NowSmellThis said...

I liked the 2000 Zen as well. All I know about the upcoming version of Zen is that it is a "fresh, floral woody scent" by Michel Almairac. It will launch this fall, but there is currently no launch date scheduled for the US.

Divina said...

Hi Robin,

Thank you for the information! It's certainly more than I knew about it :)

tmp00 said...

I loved Zen, even if I couldn't really wear it myself. I hate that they are discontinuing it!

Juvy Santos said...

I was so sad when I found out the White Zen was you, D, I really loved it. But I was an idiot...I had the oil bottle, and LOST IT. Yep, plain old LOST MY BOTTLE of it, because it's so darned small. And now I look at it on Ebay and it's so expensive :(

Glad to know that there is some kind of reissue. I like Almairac's work for Bond no. 9, so this Zen may intrigue me.

Divina said...

Hi Tom, so nice to see you again! :) I know...isn't it terrible? I just don't get why don't they leave it alone and make a new perfume all together. I am seriously angry at the situation, but as usual when it comes to such, I feel completely powerless. Bleh.

Hey Ahrianrad! You know, I've always been curious about the oil! I am replying kind of late to the comments (another busy week..) but if you happen to see my reply anyway, I'd love to hear a bit more about it. (for example I find L'Instant's oil very different than the edp... how does the Zen oil compare?)

Cristiane Gonçalves said...

Hi Divina, It is Cris from Brazil
blogger of
Thanks for linking me here... I love the way how you are avaliable to people, being a great blogger in this niche of blog. I don´t know Zen but your reviews incentivates me to try one. I tried Feminite du Bois and soon I am going to review it ... Shiseido is a great brand and I like this feminility in its fragrances... They make me remember the Japanese environment. Thanks and you have a good taste in this picture, as always

King regards, Cris

Anonymous said...

there was a Zen perfume back in the 1970's that i can not explain a wonderful sent, how it made me feel
i felt alive...i felt confident, i smelled sooo good i looked good!!!
i bought it from Macys and tnen it was dicountinued, believe or not my life was never the same, i actually was lost. it was in alittle black sleek bottle, like a genie bottle....does anyone know what i'm talking you know where it went and if i can still find it....pleas help

thank-you!!! drose

Anonymous said...

Hi, Drose. Macy's online store still sells the 1964 Zen -- known known as "Classic Zen." -- search for Classic Zen. all in stock.

good luck.


Vivian said...

Hi Drose, I came across this blogger site by accident. The Classic Zen that you're looking for which can be found at the Shiseido counter in Macy's Dallas Galleria; I have only one in stock right now (I don't know when I'll receive my stock again). I know about it for sure, because I'm the only person works at that counter. If you need additional info, you can call me at my counter after 2pm at 214-295-1255.

Anonymous said...

Classic black zen was the only fragrance I used and I am saddened by its departure from the Shiseido line. Hopefully they will do whast many manufacturers do - bring it back!

Divina said...

Hey Anon,

Unfortunately I truly doubt they will ever bring it back, although one can but hope. You can still find it online and it is still sold in Japan as well as in Epcot in the USA. I hope this helps a bit!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I saw a bottle of spirit of Zen eau de parfum and came across your site. Do you or anybody can kindly inform me what is this "spirit of Zen"? is it the classical Zen? it says eau de parfum on the bottle and above it it says spirit of Zen. and the flacon is the classical sleek black one with golden print on it and it has the screwed on cap and is 80ml. Is this version authentic? because i have never seen it anywhere else. and is this version the true classical Zen, the good stuff?

Thank you a lot and i am enjoying reading your site!


Anonymous said...

sorry i meant first i saw a bottle of spirit de parfum and then i tried to google some information and i came across this site.

Anonymous said...

I miss my white zen! It is my all time favorite perfume and I was devastated when they discontinued it. I still have my little oil bottle and used it again sparingly yesterday and my husband went nuts. I should say that he rarely comments on my scents other than Coco Channel and Zen.

I like to just open it and sniff the bottle sometimes. I instantly feel better for it.
I found this blog because I was confused about the new zen. I just want my old white back.